Marcus Rucker is a playmaker. He started 26 games during his four years at Memphis, catching 126 passes (fifth most in school history) for 1,665 yards (sixth) and 14 TDs (seventh). Yet, despite his natural athleticism, he didn’t post eye-popping numbers at a small school and went undrafted this year.
The Chicago Bears signed him shortly after the draft ended and he’s been a member of the receiving corps in Bourbonnais throughout training camp.
“I'm having a great time in camp. Every day is a new experience and so far at least, it’s all good,” Rucker told Bear Report. “I've been playing football since I was a little kid. I guess the NFL dream was always in the back of my mind, as is the case with most kids who play football. But to actually be here? It doesn't get any better than that.”
Rucker has good size (6-4, 185), speed (4.42 40-yard dash) and leaping ability (37.5-inch vertical). One-on-one, he’s been difficult to cover, particularly in jump-ball situations, yet the talent on Chicago’s roster has made it hard for him to stand out.
“The Bears have a number of wide receiver guys so it’s up to me to distinguish myself and show that I can get the job done,” Rucker said. “To that end, I've been working hard, running the routes, learning how the Bears play the game.
“If there is any danger in training camp, it might be that as a rookie you tend to try to hard and do too much. I'm trying to be sensible and preserve my body while still working at 110 percent all of the time. There's so much to learn, so much to do. You have meetings, conditioning, on-field time, more meetings. The days are pretty short when you consider all that you are cramming into them.”
As with any rookie, it has taken Rucker time to become acquainted with the speed of the NFL game.
“Mainly, I'm learning the position as it’s played in the NFL,” he said. “Things are basically the same but everything tends to move a little faster when you are playing at this level. Any time I am not out playing, I stand on the sidelines and watch. It’s amazing how much you can pick up from observing like that.
“One aspect of my game that I'm working on this week is reacting to a play rather than thinking about it first. It’s vitally important as a wide receiver to be quick. If you're thinking too much, that slows you down. That is why the coaches are stressing the importance of repetition. Once a play becomes second nature to you, and you just go out and do your thing, it tends to end up well.”
Despite less-than-ideal weather and early start times, the training camp stands at Olivet Nazarene have been filled with Bears fans for each and every practice. Playing for a basketball school in Conference-USA, it’s something with which Rucker is still getting comfortable.
“My college was Memphis and we never got the huge crowds for games that will be at Soldier Field, so that definitely will be an adjustment. I think the most important thing for me, as a rookie, is not to get distracted. I know there will be a lot of noise, a lot of intensity but if I can concentrate on the plays as they are unfolding I'll be fine.
“Having the chance to practice in Chicago last weekend was a definite plus. It was an opportunity to see the field, to find the locker room, that kind of thing. Remember that it was a completely new environment for all the new guys.
“I loved seeing the crowds there. It was so impressive to me that so many people would take the time to come and watch a practice. I understand that the Bears are important in Chicago, but now I think I understand that even more.”
Rucker’s first chance to truly showcase his talents will come this Friday, when the Bears head to Carolina to take on the Panthers in the preseason opener. A strong performance in live action will go a long way toward helping him earn a spot on the final roster or the practice squad.
“We have a huge week coming up with the first road trip and the first away game. It’s something I'm definitely looking forward to. I'm guessing it will be more or less like a college road game, but more intense. I'm also guessing that the accommodations will be better.
“What I intend to show is that I am able to step in and step up. The vets will be playing only a little bit at the beginning of that game, so we rookies should have quite a bit of on-field time. I want to show the coaches that I am comfortable out there and that I can step up my game and be a productive member of this team.
“It’s difficult to put into words how exciting that will be. It’s been my dream for so long and now I'll finally be out there in an NFL uniform. I'm counting the hours until that happens.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.